Bernard Malamud on what first drafts are for

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D.H. Lawrence, for instance, did seven or eight drafts ofThe Rainbow. The first draft of a book is the most uncertain—where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. ‘The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory,’ Thoreau said.” – Bernard Malamud

After the first step of a project or fulfilling a passion, there’s a pause. And you either go on or you don’t. You either persist or you don’t. You need two things to begin: gutsand the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. The imperfect is where play lives. Failure is the only option here.

After you’ve begun, you either keep going…or you don’t. Continuing after the first initial burst of inspiration can be a slog – joyless persistence. 

Or not. 

Malamud obviously loved the rewriting process. He called revision “one of the true pleasures of writing”.I believe him. He only published eight novels. He wrotenine novels – he burned the manuscript of his first book in 1948. His first published novel came out four years later – it’s called The Natural. You may have seen the Robert Redford movie adaptation.

Passion sparks. Play welcomes the imperfect. And the joy that can be found in persistencelets us “enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it.” That certainly sounds like true pleasure.

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